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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Biodiversity and extraction industries

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

European Mineral Forum Dinner Debate (at the European Parliament)

Brussels, 14 April 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen

Dear Jo

I would like to thank both the European Aggregates Association and the European Minerals Forum for setting up this event tonight.

Minerals and Aggregates may be just crushed stone, sand and gravel to some… to us, they are the basis of the buildings we live in, the roads we drive on and the products we buy. They are the basis of important business and many jobs…and in Europe we certainly appreciate their value.

And we see how they fit into the global biodiversity puzzle – it is pleasing to see that from all that you do, that you see it too.

Of course the work on European biodiversity policy started well before my mandate as Environment Commissioner, but there has been some recent and positive movement after the disappointment of missing the 2010 target we set ourselves.

Last month, EU Environment Ministers agreed on a new EU vision and target for biodiversity for the post-2010 period. The vision and target were subsequently endorsed by the European Council, who spoke publicly of the urgent need to reverse continuing trends of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.

This is ambitious policy making. It calls on the EU to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services by 2020 - and not just halting the loss either, but also wherever possible, restoring. And at the same time, stepping up the EU contribution at a global level.

There is a saying that you shouldn't 'throw good money after bad'. Using this kind of logic, some have questioned the decision to increase our ambition rather than lowering it. They argue that since we have failed in 2010 we shouldn't try and reach even further. This argument is flawed. Because it is assumes we did everything in our power to reach the target, and ignores the reasons for the failure.

Let me deal with the first assumption that we did everything we could, but failed.

Quite simply, we have not exhausted all the options to stop biodiversity from being lost in Europe. Don't get me wrong, there have been some remarkable successes, mainly at local level, but we haven't done enough to stop the overall decline in biodiversity.

The figures we have about the status of habitats and species in the EU speak for themselves:

  • About 15% -- or 1 in 6 -- mammal species in Europe are threatened with extinction.

  • Marine mammals are particularly at risk, with 22 % threatened, for birds that figure is 13 %.

  • more than one quarter of European mammal populations are declining, with more likely to follow if we don't act soon.

So why does it continue to decline?

Well biodiversity itself is the biggest reason. Where would you start trying to change the world? Because biodiversity isn't just part of our planet…it is the planet.

It is complex and cross-cutting. You can't tackle the challenge by focusing on just one pollutant or a single sector.

And you can't just look at one owner because the problems are spread far and wide. In fact the things that make biodiversity so important to all of us are the very things that handicap us in doing something about its decline. Nobody sees themself as responsible. We are all guilty…but no one is to blame.

But do I want to spend my time looking for scapegoats? Absolutely not. That would be a waste of all our time. Instead, we have to try to change our behaviour more generally and to build a greater sense of responsibility for the things we can change. We want people – and sectors – to understand what we want them to do to help us reach the 2020 target.

This is the only way we will be able to claim success in ten years' time.

I'm pretty sure I will not be Environment Commissioner then, but I do not want to be seen as having presided over another milestone in the decline of biodiversity. And I'm sure none of you want to be seen by your children as having stood by and watched either.

So where are we going and how do we plan to get there?

We will start with a new strategy which we want to use to deliver on the 2020 biodiversity target. It breaks down the topic of biodiversity into ecosystems where specific pressure will be able to be applied to each and measured through a series of sub-targets. These should be underpinned by a clear baseline outlining the criteria against which achievements are to be assessed.

If you want to achieve something you need to be able to measure it,… and you need a baseline from which to start. We must overcome one of the shortcomings of the current target…the fact that we never knew what our starting point was. And what kind of basis is that to go anywhere? Imagine an airport without a departures board? Or a public transport system without a timetable? This baseline will help us know not only where we're going, but also how far it will take us to get there. When you are talking about such a complex set of species it's more complicated than even the departures board at Heathrow airport!

And while we are still in the early stages of developing this strategy, we already know that enhancing the integration of biodiversity into other policies and sectors will be so important. This is something that comes with the territory. Biodiversity cuts across so many sectors – it needs an umbrella approach, not a narrow-minded one.

And this needs to be a pretty big umbrella! Up until now I've been talking like a European policy maker – which you won't find surprising – but I don't want you to think that we have ever forgotten the role of the business sector in all of this.

Businesses absolutely need to be on board. And you already are. In 2007, a High Level Conference in Lisbon on Business & Biodiversity highlighted areas where businesses, EU Member States, NGOs and the Commission could co-operate to achieve biodiversity objectives.

Following this, the Commission has asked Member States, business and non-governmental organisations to give us their views on a possible EU-level action focusing on business and biodiversity. The results show what we are coming to realise more and more…that protecting biodiversity not only makes sense at a macro-economic level, it also makes sense for individual companies. This is the value of biodiversity services – the invisible value of biodiversity, which we all want to make visible…

And while different national and international initiatives already exist to promote the integration of biodiversity-friendly practices into business governance, more can be done.

Here we need to follow-up with EU action targeted squarely at business and biodiversity.

Again, because biodiversity finds its home in all of our sectors and businesses we need to enhance integration in all the major and relevant EU policy areas such as agriculture, regional development, fisheries, energy, transport, trade, development aid and research.

And this means doing something else too: looking at how business – and I particularly mean SMEs – can benefit. Take Natura 2000, for example. Now more than ever it is focused on how the sites it protects can be managed and financed. Management and finance…that can only mean one thing…very good opportunities for business at local level – the place where you can make things happen.

Coincidentally, you – the UEPG members - boast a total of 28,000 sites across Europe. This number is rather similar to the number of Natura 2000 sites at around 26,000.

This makes your quarries and pits a little like a second Natura network…

We will soon launching the so-called Business and Biodiversity Platform (B@B), which will make the links between business and biodiversity protection stronger. The Platform will work with interested business sectors to promote an awareness of biodiversity protection within the sector.

B@B will focus on 6 sectors this year, including extractive industries. It will also work with the sectors to benchmark best practice. And an award or rating system will be developed to recognise Business sectors or companies that make an outstanding contribution to the protection of biodiversity.

I'm sure you can see that this is not a million miles away from what you are already doing with your 'toolkit' and with your work with the IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of nature).

And because it is clear to me that we are working towards the same goals, I am convinced that we can harness the energy, the skills and the resources of the business community to an even greater extent as we strive to protect our existing biodiversity and stop its continuing loss.

We seem to be working in parallel on this issue - I was very pleased to learn that UEPG has already posted information about the Platform on the front page of its website, inviting companies to join up… Let me reiterate that invitation here.

I strongly encourage you to be part of this initiative.

Earlier I spoke about the value of biodiversity and about its 'invisible' value.

I could not deliver a speech here without mentioning another initiative that the Commission, together with Germany, are strongly supporting and which many of you have undoubtedly heard about. As an economist, it certainly has my attention.

That is the study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, more commonly known as "TEEB". This is – as I speak – carrying out a global analysis of the economics of biodiversity loss. If you need an image of how important it is, imagine that it is doing for biodiversity what the Stern Report did for climate change.

TEEB will be publishing a report in July that will offer insights and advice tailored specifically for businesses. Please read it,… or at least the Executive Summary.

I know that sometimes nature conservation and the extractive sector do not always see eye to eye'. But I can also see that the UEPG in particular, has been active in working to enhance biodiversity, often in cooperation with local communities or NGOs. This has been especially true with regard to promoting good restoration practices. Of course it is inevitable that there are overlaps between Natura 2000 sites and mining sites. What I want to see is sustainable extraction and the anticipation of negative impacts – this way we can meet broader conservation objectives and make those biodiversity gains. They need not be opposite poles.

We can't maintain outdated positions here…and it is a nonsense that such conflicts exist. Because it is the extractive industry with its experience in integrated planning, management and restoration that can make the difference between biodiversity loss and business-friendly biodiversity protection.

Finally, I would like to mention the recently finalised 'Commission Guidance on implementation of Natura 2000 requirements in the context of non-energy extractive activities'.

I know that this will be discussed in more detail later, but I will say that this is a good example of 'link-building' with the extractive sector and a means of reconciling nature conservation with access to raw materials. These guidelines were prepared together with the extractive sector, Member States and NGOs. Of course, the contribution of UEPG was both very constructive and valuable. I look forward to continued cooperation.

I once read a quote that described extraction as a 'search and destroy' mission. From the good examples of restoration and stewardship I have seen in your sector that is no longer the case. You understand that you have a responsibility, but also an interest, in good environmental management. On our side, we in the Commission know that to have a real impact on halting the loss of biodiversity it is not enough to just set targets; we must work with the people that can make a change. That is why we must take forward the biodiversity agenda together.

Thank you.

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